Difficulty: Easy to moderate. The trails vary from wide gravel multi-use trails to narrow hiking paths filled with tree roots and rocks. The length of your adventure depends on how many geocaches you wish to find. You could walk less than a mile and uncover one or two caches, or you could hike 5 miles and uncover several.
How to get there: There are several entrances to Great Pond Mountain Wildlands, but for our geocaching adventure, we started at the Dead River Gate, which is accessible year round. To get there, start at Mountain View Variety and Redemption Center on Acadia Highway (Route 1) in Orland, where you can pick up some drinks and snacks. From the store, drive east on Acadia Highway about 0.4 mile, then turn left onto Hatchery Road. Drive 1.4 miles and you’ll come to Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery. Drive past the Hatchery and you’ll come to signs directing you right to the nature trails. Veer right as instructed and drive about 0.5 mile on the gravel Don Fish Trail, a private road that is also known as the Nature Trails Road, then park to the left in a small parking area by Dead River Gate.
Information: Geocaching is one of the many activities people enjoy in the Great Pond Mountain Wildlands, which is home to two vast trail networks used for hiking, biking, skiing and horseback riding. Totaling 4,500 acres, the Wildlands is broken up into two parcels, the Hothole Valley Parcel and Dead River Parcel, which are separated by some private land in the town of Orland.
Geocaching is a worldwide game in which people find hidden containers called “geocaches” or “caches” using GPS coordinates. It’s like a treasure hunt, but the “treasure” is just a container holding a logbook and sometimes little prizes. Once you find the cache, you date and sign the logbook — often with a special geocaching nickname — then, you can take a prize of your choice if you replace it with something of equal or greater value. Often these prizes are just small doodads like stickers, small toys or special geocaching coins.
There’s a lot more to geocaching, but that’s the gist of it.
To learn more, I suggest checking out geocaching.com, the largest geocaching website in the world. There you can view a map showing the location of geocaches in your area, and if you sign up, you can log your caches online to keep track of your progress.
Geocaches can be found all over Maine, both indoors and outdoors in public places. Some geocaches will lead you on a walk of a town, to historical sites and other interesting landmarks. While others, like the 14 currently found in Great Pond Mountain Wildlands, will lead you on a walk through nature.
Finding geocaches in Great Pond Mountain Wildlands just takes signing up to geocaching.com, which is free. Then you compare the geocaching.com map of geocaches to the Wildland’s trail map to decide which caches you want to pursue. The caches are scattered far and wide, enticing you to walk farther than you might otherwise.
In the Dead River Parcel, seven geocaches were created in 2017 by a geocacher who goes by the name of Starblazer24. These caches are spread out along a loop hike (with some short side trips) that is about 4.5 miles long and includes Dead River Trail, Picnic Path, Connector Trail, Hay Ledges Path and Stuart Gross Trail. And there are two additional caches created by other geocachers located on the hike up Great Pond Mountain.
In the Hothole Valley Parcel, there are older geocaches, some dating back to 2003, scattered throughout the vast swath of conserved land. One geocache is located right at the parcel’s south gate, and another is not too far away, located alongside the wide, gravel Valley Road. Others require much more walking (or biking, depending on the time of year) to get to, such as the cache hidden near the banks of Hothole Pond, which is a 4.4-mile round trip hike from the north gate of the parcel.
All geocaches placed in the Wildlands must be approved by the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust, a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 to conserve land, water and wildlife habitat in Hancock County. For more information, including a detailed trail map of both parcels, visit greatpondtrust.org. The organization can also be reached at 207-469-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Personal note: When mud, slush, brittle ice and crusty snow form a patchwork over Maine in late winter, spending time active outdoors can be a bit discouraging. Such was the case on Sunday, March 4, when I endeavored to go cross-country skiing only to realize there simply wasn’t enough snow covering the nearby trails. In fact, there were long sections of trail that were completely snow free. Meanwhile, my husband, Derek, was eager to use his new snowshoes. But of course, there wasn’t enough snow for that either.
So to make our outing a little more exciting, I decided we could try geocaching, something Derek had never done before. Using the mobile app created by geocaching.com, we started our adventure at the Dead River Gate of the Wildlands and worked our way along Dead River Trail, sometimes trudging through 6 inches of slushy snow and other times walking along the edge of the gravel multi-use trail to avoid sinking into the mud.
Our dog, Oreo, joined us, and every time we stopped to locate a nearby cache, it was as if he knew we were searching for something. He stuck his head into tree cavities and sniffed along the edges of boulders. In his mind, I’m sure we were looking for squirrels.
The first cache we uncovered was at the end of Picnic Path, which is about a 1-mile hike from the gate. The 0.3-mile Picnic Path veers away from Dead River Trail, leading steadily downhill and becoming increasingly narrow before dead-ending at a scenic picnic site on the banks of the Dead River. There we sat at an old picnic table and ate sandwiches and chips from Mountain View Variety, then almost failed to find the cache, which had been hidden (but not destroyed) by a recent blowdown. When we did finally find it, we signed the log book and recorded our find on the mobile app. I also inspected the various “treasures” inside — a race car, geocache-themed drink coozy, a pirate stick-on tattoo, a wind-up toy and more. But since we didn’t bring with us any treasures to trade, we left everything inside the cache.
From there, we continued on Dead River Trail, making a big loop that included the Connector Trail and Hay Ledge Trail, covering about 4.5 miles and uncovering a total of four caches. The goal of finding each cache pushed us to walk farther than we planned, and it seemed to excite Oreo, who took the opportunity of our brief stops to sniff about, chew on sticks and roll around in the dead leaves.